Court Recognizes Same-Sex Parents Have Parental Rights

Photo of mother and daughter hitting 'high five'
Photo of mother and daughter hitting 'high five'
(stock photo: Any Lane from Pexels)

Yesterday, the Michigan Court of Appeals recognized two unmarried women as parents where one parent is a genetic parent and the other parent gave birth.

LaNesha Matthews and Kyresha LeFever were a same-sex couple who had twins together using assisted reproduction. The children were conceived through in vitro fertilization using Kyresha’s eggs, and LaNesha gave birth. Last year, a trial court ruled LaNesha is a surrogate with no parental rights because she is not a genetic parent, even though she always intended to be a mother and parented the children since they were born seven years ago.

After the parents broke up, they shared custody for several years before going to court after a dispute. The trial court ruled that LaNesha was not a parent, removed LaNesha from the birth certificates, prevented her from participating in their educational or medical decision-making, and allowed her only limited visitation as an unrelated “third party.”

On April 1, 2021, the Michigan Court of Appeals unanimously reversed the trial court’s ruling, finding that LaNesha and Kyresha are both equal parents to their children. One of the judges wrote an additional opinion explaining that all parents and their children have a constitutional right to be recognized, regardless of birth or genetics.

“We are grateful that our client and her children are once again recognized as a family,” said NCLR Family Law Director Cathy Sakimura. “We know that families are formed in many ways. Recognizing genetics as the only basis for parent-child relationships leaves out many families and harms children by separating them from their parents.”

NCLR represented LaNesha on appeal before the Michigan Court of Appeals along with her trial counsel Regina Jemison.

(via press release from NCLR)

LGBTQ Rights Package Introduced In North Carolina

Screen capture from ABC11 in North Carolina

Screen capture from ABC11 in North Carolina

A group of lawmakers in North Carolina has proposed a package of 4 bills that would improve life for LGBTQ people in the state.

The first bill would repeal House Bill 2, also known as the state’s ‘bathroom bill.’

The second piece of legislation would put into place statewide non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

The third bill would outlaw so-called ‘conversion therapy,’ the dangerous pseudo-science that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

And the fourth bill would prohibit the use of the ‘gay panic’ or ‘trans panic’ defense in legal cases which attempts to justify killing or harming someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“No one should worry that they can’t buy a home because of who they love or be denied a haircut or a hotel room because of their gender identity,” Rep. Vernetta Alston (D-District 29) told the local ABC News affiliate.

Kendra Johnson of Equality NC added, “For too long LGBTQ North Carolinians have lived in the shadow of archaic and outdated laws that impact everyone in our community.”

Lawmakers say they are ‘hopeful’ the bills have momentum to pass, but I’ll note that the Republican-controlled state legislature hasn’t previously given queer people much to believe in.

Japan Court Rules Ban On Same-Sex Marriage Is Unconstitutional

Wedding cake with two grooms

Wedding cake with two grooms

For the first time, a Japanese court has ruled the country’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Judge Tomato Takebe of the Sapporo District Court said in his ruling, “Legal benefits stemming from marriages should equally benefit both homosexuals and heterosexuals.” Takebe added that the prohibition violates Article 14 of Japan’s constitution which bans discrimination “because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.”

In addition to the emotional distress of being treated like second-class citizens, same-sex couples are also financially harmed by the ban.

Without the right to marry, same-sex couples have no parental rights to children, and can’t inherit their partner’s estate (houses, property, assets). Even for couples who marry abroad, without recognition in Japan binational couples don’t have access to visas which could force them to live separately.

The court case was brought by three same-sex couples who filed their lawsuit seeking financial compensation for the challenges they’ve faced.

While the plaintiffs won on the broader issue of the right to marry, Judge Takebe declined to grant their request for financial compensation.

Attorneys for the couples say they plan to appeal the ruling in regard to the damages sought for compensation.

The ruling doesn’t bring about any real change at this point, but with four similar lawsuits making their way through courts in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka, it’s sure to help set legal precedent.

Japan is the only member of the G7 nations (France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United States, United Kingdom, and Canada) where same-sex marriages have not become legal.

In May 2019, Taiwan became the only country in Asia to legally embrace marriage equality.

Read more at AP News.

Fairness For All Act ‘Worse Than Nothing’ Due To Religious Exemptions

The U.S. Capitol building

The U.S. Capitol building

Republican Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah has introduced legislation that he calls a counter proposal to the Equality Act which was passed in the House of Representatives yesterday by a vote of 224-206.

Like the Equality Act, Stewart says his bill, titled the Fairness For All Act (FFAA), would expand existing federal laws regarding anti-LGBTQ discrimination – but with some HUGE differences.

• Under the FFAA, faith-based adoption agencies would continue to receive federal funds but could refuse to place children with potential LGBTQ parents under the guise of ‘religious freedoms.’

• Similarly, religious schools would be allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

• Additionally, while the Equality Act clearly states transgender people would have access to bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity, the FFAA is vague on the issue.

• The FFAA would include an exemption that would allow businesses to refuse to serve LGBTQ people if they have fewer than 15 employees.

• While the Equality Act specifies the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) could not be used as a legal defense in court against cases of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, the FFAA would allow religious beliefs to justify discriminatory actions.

In other words, what’s the point?

“It is hard to really love our neighbors when we are fighting with them over whose rights are more important,” said Rep. Stewart in a statement. “This country can accommodate both civil liberties for LGBT individuals & religious freedom.”

Stewart’s bill has 21 Republican co-sponsors but no Democrats signed on to the legislation even though Stewart initially indicated the bill would have bipartisan support.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), the sponsor of the Equality Act, told the Washington Blade that the FFAA would “very clearly be worse than nothing.”

“For the first time in our history, it would actually put in federal statute provisions that permit discrimination against the LGBTQ community,” Cicilline told the Blade. “It would be a tremendous step backward, which is why it’s not supported by any major LGBT organization, all of the major LGBT organizations support the Equality Act.”

“The Stewart bill is a tremendous step backward in our fight for full equality,” added Cicilline.

(source: Washington Blade)

Equality Act Passes In House Of Representatives 224-206

As expected, the Equality Act, which would amend current federal laws to outlaw discrimination against LGBTQ people, passed in the House of Representatives today.

With 3 Republicans voting with all Democrats, the vote was 224-206.

Today’s Republican votes were Reps. Tom Reed (NY), John Katko (NY) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA).

Conservatives argue the Equality Act would interfere with their right to discriminate against LGBTQ people based on ‘religious liberty.’

Half of LGBTQ people in the U.S. live in the 29 states that lack comprehensive, statewide protections. As a result, discrimination is still commonplace – and legal.

Currently, a person can be denied housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in 27 states; denied access to education in 31 states; and the right to serve on a jury in 41 states.

The legislation was previously approved in the House in 2019. On May 17, 2019, the vote (236-173) carried with 8 Republicans voting in favor of the bill and no Democrats opposing.

Former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell never allowed a vote on the bill in the Senate.

GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis:

“The House passage of The Equality Act is a victory for all Americans and for our country’s core values of equal treatment under law. This landmark civil rights law secures those protections for every LGBTQ person, to live without fear of discrimination. An overwhelming majority of Americans already support laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, including Americans of all faiths. We are now calling on Senate leaders to come together to finish the work for what is right and just for all Americans. Any Senator against The Equality Act is not only complicit with LGBTQ discrimination, but grossly out of touch with the bill’s widespread, bipartisan public support. It is time to move together to ensure LGBTQ people have the chance to belong, to participate and to succeed in all areas of American life.”

Kierra Johnson, Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force:

“We applaud the House vote on the Equality Act, and but we now look to the Senate and begin in earnest what should be a bipartisan effort to protect LGBTQ people. This is what we know: LGBTQ people in 29 states are not protected by anti-discrimination laws. This patchwork of equality is indefensible – the Equality Act must be passed by the Senate so all LGBTQ Americans will be protected from discrimination. It could not be more clear: current civil rights laws leave LGBTQ people, women, people of color and people of faith vulnerable to discrimination. The Equality Act can right this wrong and take the country one step closer to living its promise of ‘liberty and justice for all’ and truly mean it.”

David J. Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition:

“We applaud the House for supporting this bill once again, as it did in 2019, and urge the Senate to follow suit. As Black History Month concludes, we implore Senators to vote in favor of the Equality Act like their lives depend on it, as ours do.”

President Biden Urges Swift Passage Of Equality Act

President Joe Biden

In an official statement from the White House, President Biden calls on Congress to “swiftly pass” the Equality Act:

I applaud Congressman David Cicilline and the entire Congressional Equality Caucus for introducing the Equality Act in the House of Representatives yesterday, and I urge Congress to swiftly pass this historic legislation.

Every person should be treated with dignity and respect, and this bill represents a critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all.

Full equality has been denied to LGBTQ+ Americans and their families for far too long. Despite the extraordinary progress the LGBTQ+ community has made to secure their basic civil rights, discrimination is still rampant in many areas of our society.

The Equality Act provides long overdue federal civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, locking in critical safeguards in our housing, education, public services, and lending systems — and codifying the courage and resilience of the LGBTQ+ movement into enduring law.

On my first day in office, I was proud to sign an Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation. I directed agencies to implement the Supreme Court’s Bostock ruling, and fully enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.

Now, it’s time for Congress to secure these protections once and for all by passing the Equality Act — because no one should ever face discrimination or live in fear because of who they are or whom they love.

The Equality Act, formally reintroduced in the House on Thursday, would ban anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination throughout the nation. The act would amend existing civil rights laws to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The legislation passed in the House in 2019 with a bipartisan 236-173 vote but was never given a vote in the Senate.

(via WhiteHouse.gov)

House Will Vote On The Equality Act Next Week

The Equality Act could come up for a vote in the House of Representatives as soon as next week

In a letter to colleagues, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) indicated that the Equality Act will be taken up as soon as next week.

From the Washington Blade:

“Other legislation coming to the floor next week are two bills that passed through the House last Congress: a wilderness package and the Equality Act, which will end legal discrimination against LGBTQ Americans,” Hoyer writes.

In addition to the explicit declaration that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination in employment, education, housing, jury service and credit, the Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and LGBTQ status in public accommodations and federal programs.

Further, the Equality Act would expand the definition of public accommodations under federal civil rights law to include retail stores, banks, transportation services, and health care services. The legislation would also establish that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — a 1994 law aimed at protecting religious liberty — can’t be used to enable anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

The House approved the Equality Act in 2019, but then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (D-KY) refused to allow a vote on the legislation in the Senate.

Biden Issues Memo Aimed At Protecting LGBTQ Rights Abroad

President Biden issued a presidential memorandum aimed at promoting and protecting LGBTQ rights abroad.
President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden issued a presidential memorandum on Thursday aimed at promoting and protecting LGBTQ rights abroad.

From the White House, the memorandum reads, in part:

“All human beings should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear no matter who they are or whom they love. Around the globe, including here at home, brave lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activists are fighting for equal protection under the law, freedom from violence, and recognition of their fundamental human rights.

“The United States belongs at the forefront of this struggle — speaking out and standing strong for our most dearly held values. It shall be the policy of the United States to pursue an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, and to lead by the power of our example in the cause of advancing the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world.

“Through this memorandum, I am directing all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that United States diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”

The memorandum goes on to list specific actions to be taken abroad:

1. Combating Criminalization of LGBTQI+ Status or Conduct Abroad.
2. Protecting Vulnerable LGBTQI+ Refugees and Asylum Seekers.
3. Foreign Assistance to Protect Human Rights and Advance Nondiscrimination.
4. Swift and Meaningful United States Responses to Human Rights Abuses of LGBTQI+ Persons Abroad.
5. Building Coalitions of Like-Minded Nations and Engaging International Organizations in the Fight Against LGBTQI+ Discrimination.
6. Rescinding Inconsistent Policies and Reporting on Progress.

During the presidential campaign, Biden made promoting and protecting LGBTQ rights abroad a key issue in his LGBTQ platform.

Read the full memorandum at WhiteHouse.gov.

UPDATE: Biden Repeals Transgender Military Ban

Joe Biden plans to reverse the ban on transgender military service members

UPDATE: President Joe Biden has signed an executive order repealing Donald Trump’s ban on transgender Americans serving in the U.S. military.

“President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service, and that America’s strength is found in its diversity,” read a statement from the White House.

“Allowing all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform is better for the military and better for the country because an inclusive force is a more effective force,”

“Simply put, it’s the right thing to do and is in our national interest.”

In addition to reversing Trump’s ban on transgender service members, Biden’s executive order requires corrections to the record of any soldier affected by the ban.

A Gallup poll conducted in June 2019 showed 71% of Americans support allowing transgender Americans to openly serve in the military.


CBS News reports that the Biden administration is expected to repeal the ban on transgender military servicemembers as soon as Monday.

The senior Defense official told CBS News the repeal will be through executive order signed by President Joe Biden.

The announcement is expected to take place at a ceremony with newly-confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who will order the Pentagon to go back to the policy enacted in 2016 by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter that allowed transgender Americans to serve openly.

Biden mentioned his plan to reverse the trans ban often on the campaign trail.

“I truly believe, Senator, that as I said in my opening statement, that if you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve,” Secretary Austin said during his Senate confirmation hearing. “And, you can expect that I will support that throughout.”

Donald Trump instituted the transgender military ban in July 2017 as part of a deal with a group of House Republicans.

The GOPers threatened to block funding of Trump’s Mexico wall if he didn’t prohibit the U.S. military from paying for or supplying healthcare for trans service members. Trump took the request further and banned any new transgender applicants from serving.

Over 20 retired generals and admirals denounced the policy saying the ban was “a troubling move backward.”

Biden Signs EO Prohibiting LGBTQ Discrimination In Federal Agencies

President Joe Biden signs executive order prohibiting LGBTQ discrimination in all federal agencies
President-elect Joe Biden

Just hours after taking the oath of office, President Joe Biden signed 17 executive orders including one prohibiting LGBTQ discrimination in all federal agencies.

The first paragraph of the executive order states, “All persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.”

The order instructs the head of each agency to “review all existing orders, regulations, guidance documents, policies, program or other agency actions” that prohibit sex discrimination to revise and amend such policies to include banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The order cites the Supreme Court ruling for Bostock v. Clayton County which was handed down on June 15, 2020. The 6-3 decision found that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation because such animus is a form of “sex discrimination” which is clearly prohibited under the Civil Rights Act.

In the seven months since the ruling, the Trump administration chose to not implement the ruling. That inaction was consistent with most of the Trump administration’s policies regarding LGBTQ rights and protections.

Biden’s executive order is more expansive than just the Bostock ruling, however.

The order notes that, under Bostock’s reasoning, “laws that prohibit sex discrimination — including Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Fair Housing Act, and section 412 of the Immigration and Nationality Act — prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, so long as the laws do not contain sufficient indications to the contrary.”

Biden also addresses how discrimination can often overlap with other forms of prohibited discrimination including animus based on the basis of race or disability. The language specifically notes that “transgender Black Americans face unconscionably high levels of workplace discrimination, homelessness, and violence, including fatal violence.”

The executive order is a great start – especially seeing our new president addressing LGBTQ concerns on his first day on the job. But the order will have limitations in that some civil rights legislation doesn’t name sex as a protected class.

That makes the passage of the Equality Act, which would expand all federal civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity protections.

Biden has promised to sign the Equality Act, which would add LGBTQ protections to existing federal civil rights laws, into law within his first 100 days. But the impending second impeachment trial of Donald Trump may slow things down a bit.

The Senate Judiciary committee, which would oversee the Equality Act bill, is the same committee now tasked with the impeachment proceedings.

Additionally, Senate Democrats will need ten Republican colleagues to vote in favor of the bill since there’s the 60 vote threshold required to close debate and move to a vote.

Jen Psaki, the new White House press secretary, told the Washington Blade that President Biden plans on issuing an executive order in the next few days that would reverse the Trump administration’s ban on military service by transgender Americans.

Other executive orders signed Wednesday reversed Trump’s Muslim travel ban, stopped construction of the Mexico border wall, and rejoining the Paris climate agreement.